Q: In response to the question about cellphone use while driving, there is a simple, relatively inexpensive solution. Insurance companies lobby the federal government to mandate that automakers install a low-level cellphone jamming device similar to devices available in the marketplace. The jamming device activates when the speedometer is activated by the car in motion but is inactive when the vehicle is stopped. Any attempt to deactivate the device would cause the entire instrument cluster to crash, resulting in an expensive repair. Federal and state governments already have created legislation for vehicle safety — seatbelts, air bags, daytime running lights etc. A stroke of the pen for low-level cellphone jamming devices would be simple and easy, and the technology is here today.
A: This great idea is from Tom Hawk. Although it would be dramatic and somewhat harsh in regard to permanent damage from attempting to deactivate the jamming system and would not allow passengers to use their cellphones while the vehicle is moving, it would certainly reduce distracted driving from cellphone use.
But where would you draw the line? Recognize that cellphone use is only one of many forms of distracted driving — eating, gawking, dressing, reading, fiddling with controls, etc. While I can't argue the basic validity of "forced compliance," the fact that it might take something this draconian confirms, in my opinion, that the basic problem is human. How many people still fail to buckle their seatbelts even in light of the law, much less the obvious and continuous danger of failing to do so? How many people still choose a cheeseburger rather than a Big Mac or Whopper in the drive-thru because it's less messy to eat while driving? Even newer cars with "hands free" texting and cellphone use still require the driver to multitask while driving.
As a nation we seem to accept an enormous casualty rate from motor vehicle crashes — 40,000 deaths per year — as the cost of "doing business," so to speak. The annual numbers approach our losses in Korea and Vietnam and are 10 times our total losses in the Gulf wars.
Thus, we're back to that fundamental question — are driverless motor vehicles the only answer?
I sure hope not. I keep returning to the words of Jackie Stewart — a very early "reality check," including an ongoing education into each and every aspect of owning/driving a motor vehicle along with a long, difficult and expensive process of training to obtain a driver's license, is the best long-term solution.
In a nutshell, it is my feeling that we need to change driving behaviors, not try to prevent them.
Q: How do automatic braking systems effectively work in an area of wildlife "instantly" crossing your path, especially on icy roads with no shoulders and deep ditches?
A: Great question. First, no "system" can overcome the laws of physics. In automotive terms, this is the level of traction available between the vehicle's tires and road surface. Passive automatic braking systems create an audible warning to the driver of an impending threat so that he/she can react, while active systems can actually apply and/or adjust the level of braking to minimize stopping distance. These systems are integrated with ABS, traction and stability control and can even pre-tension seatbelts in anticipation of a crash.
The current generation of these systems utilizes radar, laser and cameras to monitor what's in front of the vehicle and the closure rate. Interestingly, there doesn't seem to be an industry standard as to exactly what these systems recognize as an impending threat. Some recognize only other vehicles while some recognize smaller objects like people and animals.
These systems are still in their infancy and are part of the larger effort to fully automate the driving experience — ultimately driverless cars.
Will all the automotive "nannies" ultimately become our chauffeurs?